October 28, 2018

Brief synopsis of the readings: God, speaking through Jeremiah, rejoices that God has saved the remnant of Israel. God will bring them back from the land of the North and gather them from the ends of the earth. Those who left in tears will be comforted on their return. Mark’s Gospel describes Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, forced himself through a hostile crowd and approached Jesus. When Jesus asked him what he wanted, Bartimaeus asked for sight. Jesus told him that his faith has saved him and his sight was returned. Bartimaues then followed Jesus.

OK, so we’re all friends here. So I hope I can make a confession: I really weary of Gospel passages where Jesus cures people of their blindness. I weary on a few levels. On one level I think about the fairness: why does Bartimaeus gains his sight but Helen Keller and Stevie Wonder don’t? I’m certain there were other blind people in Jesus’ world who may or may not have had faith but were not healed. What made Bart worthy?

And on another level I weary of the plethora of sermons that will be preached this weekend about how we are all blind to Jesus and Bart broke from the pack and recognized who Jesus was. It’s not that there’s truth to this, but I’m not sure what that means for the rest of us except that we shouldn’t be blind. For those of us who seek wisdom, who find the path of discipleship our best way forward, this interpretation tells us nothing about what we should do.

So I suggest we look at this Gospel from a different angle.

I’m interested in the fact that we know the name of the person Jesus healed. That doesn’t often happen: most of the time the Gospel writers don’t give us the name of the person Jesus healed, perhaps because it didn’t matter. Why might it matter here?

Of the four Gospels, Mark wrote his first, probably around the year 70, forty years after these events. This is just a suggestion, but perhaps some of Mark’s readers actually knew Bart, or at least knew about him.

And this brings up a question I’ve often wondered about: what happens to people after their interactions with Jesus? We knew that Bart was a blind beggar; people with disabilities occupied a strange place in their society. While it was often believed that a disability was a curse from God, Jews of the time were obligated to help those in need.

I think it’s fair to say that Bart got pretty good with voices and knew which of his fellow Jews were generous and which weren’t. But to most of the people he interacted with, he was essentially invisible; when he called out to Jesus he was scolded, perhaps because those around Jesus didn’t think Bart was important enough to take Jesus’ time.

So what does he do now that he is “visible?” He clearly can’t continue begging if he can see. We know nothing about whether or not he had a family or if he had any skills where he could make a living. All we really know is that he regained his sight and followed Jesus.

But as he began to put faces together with the voices, how did he react? Was he kinder to those who were generous to him, and resentful to those who weren’t? I think it’s easy to see why many people would.

On other hand, though, I hope he used this healing to be generous. I hope he used his eyesight to be generous with those with disabilities and that he was kind to those who were kind to him. More than that, I hope he used this blessing as a way of reaching out to those who weren’t kind to him. To those who scolded him away from Jesus, I hope Bart reached out to them also.

If we look back on our lives we can see times when we’ve been blessed. But if we look at the time before, were there times when we were invisible? Maybe we were in a dead end job with little prospect of advancement, when we were made to feel that we didn’t matter. If so, how did we react to our blessing?

I remember a coworker many years ago who did well in his job. When he was promoted into management I was happy for him because I thought he was getting the recognition he deserved. But he took on this new found power to settle scores. He would write up his employees for minor causes and generally make things difficult for people he didn’t like. Both morale and productivity plummeted which only made him angrier and more resentful. He ended up not lasting very long in that position.

How different things would have gone if he had seen this opportunity to be kind and generous. How different if he used his experience, backed with the wisdom of having been in the trenches, to encourage and mentor his people.

We have no way of knowing this, but the earliest readers of Mark’s Gospel may have heard this story with some surprise. “Bartimaeus? Our Bartimaeus? Wow. I know he was a good and kind man but I had no idea he was once blind. He really knew what to do with Jesus’ miracle.”

The blessings in our lives don’t live only in our rear view mirror. There are blessings ahead for all of us. Let us strive to use them to be kind and generous.